Netanyahu: Israel Must Bolster West Bank Settlements and Follow Law

Presenting plan to relocate Ulpana Hill homes, prime minister tells Likud ministers that High Court-bypassing legislation would damage Israel in the international arena.

Israel must bolster settlement activity in the West Bank while maintaining the rule of law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Sunday, in wake of a newly surfaced plan to relocate structures in the illegal outpost of Ulpana Hill so as to avoid their demolition.

On Saturday, sources close to Netanyau told Haaretz that the prime minister is examining a two-par solution to the issue of the Ulpana Hill outpost that will avoid the need for legislation on the matter.

Israel's High Court has ruled that the neighborhood, which is located in the Beit El settlement, must be demolished by July 1.

In the first phase of the solution being considered, the five Ulpana homes in question would be uprootied and moved several hundred meters to land that is not privately owned by Palestinians.

Additionally, ten new homes would be constructed in Beit El for every uprooted building, subject to approval by the attorney general.

Netanyahu said this weekend that he would prefer to avoid legislation on the matter, as legislation would weaken the settlement movement, rather than strengthen it.

Speaking during a weekly meeting with Likud ministers in Jerusalem, Netanyahu, in an apparent bid to forestall objections to the move, said that Israel had to find a solution that was not legislative.

"Our policy is to bolster the settlements, while adhering to the law," the prime minister said, adding: "We could always go for a legislative solution, but that has its prices, including in the international arena."

The premier added that he intended to relocate the houses in question to another part of Beit El, to expand construction activities in the settlement and to formulate a mechanism that would prevent future lawsuits against residents, saying: "If those three points get the legal approval, we will be in a good place."

"Our intention is to bring those three points together in accordance with the attorney general's approval. We'll wait patiently for the AG's answer, so we can make a seasoned decision," Netanyahu added.

The PM reiterated the state's intent to establish a legal deterrent against "those wishing to demolish," saying it represented a "basic component" in the plans submitted to the AG.

Officials at the Prime Minister's Office speculated that a response by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein could arrive as soon as Sunday, adding that the cost of relocating the structures a few hundred meters away would be significantly less than reported, estimated at several dozens of millions of NIS.

Netanyahu aides have said that the building of ten homes for every evacuated structure could boost Beit El's population by more than a thousand people.

Yair Lapid responded to the decision on his Facebook page, stating that "the Ulpana evacuation is a tragedy in which many great Israelis, among them good Zionists, are being removed from their homes."

The Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El
Olivier Fitoussi
Ulpana Hill - Gil Cohen-Magen - 22/4/2012
Gil Cohen-Magen